Cassandra Clare: Clockwork Angel Exclusive Q&A

Author Cassandra Clare answered a ton of questions during her Aug. 4 live chat, but we’ve taken things a step further and gone more in-depth. Read on for details on steampunk, the parallels among her two companion series, and even a few details from the upcoming books!


Q. Originally, The Mortal Instruments was marketed as a trilogy — but you’ve got a new book, City of Fallen Angels, coming out next year, plus The Infernal Devices prequels [and now we know about City of Lost Souls and City of Heavenly Fire]. What drew you back to this series?

A. Well, I never thought of it as just one series. I thought of it as a world I was building that I could play around in for a long time. I could have written the Infernal series first; it’s just pure random chance that I wrote The Mortal Instruments first (chance, and my concerns that publishers weren’t going to go for a steampunk historical YA fantasy. But I was probably wrong about that.) I’ve told the story before, but basically: I thought City of Glass was the last Mortal Instruments book, and then a graphic novel publisher approached me to see if I’d be interested in spinning off a storyline from it to make a graphic novel. I wrote up a whole outline, focusing on Simon and what happened to him after the end of Glass, but when the project fell through I had this outline and nothing to do with it. I wanted to tell the story, so I suggested to my publisher I make it a novel — a sort of coda to the TMI books.

Now, I’m not really a seat of the pants type writer. I tend to outline carefully before I start anything. But as I began to work on the coda book, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to write. Other ideas kept sneaking into my head; whole plotlines were coming to life that took the focus off Simon, and the arc of a second epic story started to take shape. I was in Mexico at the time at a writer’s workshop, so I brought all my notes to the friends who were there with me — Robin Wasserman, Holly Black, Delia Sherman, and Sarah Rees Brennan — and said, “What do I do?” and they said, “What you’ve got here are the notes for the outline of a new trilogy.” And once they said that, I felt like I was allowed to start really envisioning the story as a new cycle. And that’s where City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, and City of Heavenly Fire came into being, so to speak.

Q. There are a lot of (seemingly deliberate) parallels between the main characters in Clockwork Angel and those in The Mortal Instruments. How do you think reading Clockwork Angel enhances our understanding of characters in The Mortal Instruments and vice versa?

A. Well, like it says on my website, I don’t think of these as two separate series so much as a single overarching story of the Shadowhunter families of the Waylands, Herondales, Fairchilds, and Lightwoods. These books are all thematically linked by issues of family, blood and choice. Are you destined to be what you are from birth, or do you get to choose? What makes someone your family — is it love, or blood ties? Can what your blood relatives did in the past still reverberate in your own life? Can you escape your destiny? In a sense, the story of the Infernal Devices makes the story of the Mortal Instruments possible.

Q. Do you think readers will find the ending of Clockwork Angel a cliffhanger?

A.  I certainly hope so, because if they don’t, it means they’re not that invested in these characters! I mean, the book literally ends on a question — one that hopefully you’ve been thinking about as the book developed, but that won’t be answered until Clockwork Prince. It’s kind of a risky move, but considering the way I ended City of Bones and all the angry letters I got, probably not quite as heartless as previous volumes.

Q. They say that everything old is new again, so what drew you to steampunk?

A. I’ve had a lifetime obsession with the Victorian era and Victoriana, probably stemming from my adolescent love of the Brontes and Sherlock Holmes. The aesthetic of steampunk is one that’s already tied in with the fascinations of the Victorian era — after all, steampunk basically posits a world where Babbage’s Difference Engine, the world’s first ‘computer’, actually worked, and where steam replaced the combustion engine. The Victorian era was a time where invention was exploding, where people were starting to think literally anything could be made possible through technology. I wanted to write about the Shadowhunters coming up against a villain whose threat isn’t magical, but is technological. I like to throw new challenges their way!

Q. What goes into creating the “steampunk” world featured in Clockwork Angel? How do you go about combining this historical past, with this bizarre, magical technology?

A. As Arthur C Clare once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” By which he means if you invent a teleportation device that whisks you from one part of the earth to the other instantly, it doesn’t function in a narrative any differently than say, the Portals in my world do. So I’m just retrofitting the mechanical version of the magic I’ve already created.

Q. How much did the 1987 steampunk novel Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter influence your new series?

A. I didn’t read it until I’d already started Clockwork Angel, and then in part for the same reason I read Michael Connelly’s City of Bones when I found out it existed — I wanted to make sure it was sufficiently unlike my book of the same title that no one would get confused. And boy is it. Jeter’s book is subtitled “A Mad Victorian Fantasy” and it really is — it’s this totally parodic, black-humoured romp through a weird alterna-Victorian setting where everything is exaggerated or bizarre and there are half-human, half-fish Lovecraftian monsters — I mean, I really do recommend reading it, it’s hilarious. I think it influenced me in the sense that along with Tim Powers and James Blaylock, Jeter really invented the steampunk genre — the aesthetics of it, the essence, are due to writers like him.

Q. Robots. Automatons. Why are they so freaking scary? (And why do they seem even scarier when set in the past, than they do in future worlds like Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey?)

A. Because they’re out of sync with what we expect of the past. We expect a certain level of technology in stories of the future. Seeing it transplanted into the past amplifies what is already an experience of the robotics hypothesis of the “uncanny valley” — the more something looks human but not quite, the creepier it is. Robots and androids also play on our fears of death and dissolution — they can be taken apart and still function and move. Creep city.

Q. Why are there so many literary references in Clockwork Angel? (Why does Tessa have a reading list?)

A. For the same reason there are so many references to artists and works of art in City of Bones. I wanted to say something about how my protagonists see the world. Clary sees everything through the prism of being an artist — she wants to draw Jace, she thinks of Magritte paintings when she sees something surreal. Tessa filters everything through her knowledge of books — the way she expects people to behave versus the way they actually do behave, etc.

Q. Novel Novice features current YA, but we also highlight classics worth checking out. Do you think the classics are still relevant and why?

A. Not to be trite, but classics become classics for a reason. Most books go out of print within five years. If you make it past that, it’s unusual. To still be being read in twenty, thirty years, means you’re saying something that speaks to people on a deep level, a level that has nothing to do with minor anachronisms that honestly I think most readers just filter out.

Q. Your playlists are very eclectic. Where do you get your music?

A. Mostly off my fiance — he’s a musician and he’s always seeking out new music and new bands. Then I drive him crazy playing the same song over and over while I’m writing.

Q. What do you want people to know about Clockwork Angel? Now’s your chance to get it all out!

A. Well now that I’m allowed to talk about the fact that the Shadowhunter books comprise nine volumes, rather than seven, I would say that I’m really looking forward to this adventure of alternating the series publications — first we’ll have Clockwork Angel, then City of Fallen Angels, then Clockwork Prince, then City of Lost Souls, etc. It allows me to salt tiny details through the narrative that reward close reading. There are literally characters who show up in the end of Angel who reappear at the beginning of Fallen Angels; Jace notices some graffiti in Fallen Angels that ties into something in Lost Souls. I think it’s going to be really fun!


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